Saturday 3 July 2010

A tale of two Anchors

I’ve long been a lover of Anchor Brewery’s Old Foghorn. Oh I know nit-pickers will point to American barley wines having a higher hop character than the Brit ones that still survive in the UK, but I don’t really care. For me styles are a starting point in a beer, a base from which a beer can either stay put or start moving in another direction whilst retaining its original character, but that’s by the by. What I want to pay homage to, to bow down before, to supplicate myself in awe, is Old Foghorn. And to this extent I conducted a tasting of two vintages, one I bought from Tuckers Maltings’ magnificent beer shop around 2002 or even 2001 (with a drink by date of May 04) and hosting a strength of 9.4%, while the other came into my possession a few months ago (drink by date June 2011); this one is a mere stripling at 8.2%. Others have come and gone over the years, I once had a case in, but I find them hard to resist, so the survival of the older Old Foghorn is nothing short of a miracle. I like what age does to some beers, bringing forth the complexity of malt and letting the yeast do its work. So here goes.
Old Foghorn, brewed c end 1990s/2000/2001 (?)
Top prised off, no hiss. Quiet and complacently lacking in carbonation, though there’s still enough to suggest that this is a beer if one were evaluating solely on fizz. Light chestnut brown in colour. Sweetness is reminiscent of an old Madeira, vinous, woody, fiery, roast bananas, then it has a brandy-like savour. The initial dose of alcoholic fieriness is then softened by marzipan-like cake character; there’s a creamy and smooth mouthfeel. I tried it with a chunk of Parmesan and found that it doused the saltiness of the cheese, which it in its turn teased out the sweetness of the beer, making for a delightful tango on the palate. The complexity of the beer continued as a suggestion of dried cherries also emerged on the palate. This an elegant end of the night snifter, a delight, a bittersweet fiery massage on the palate, with a peppery colonel bringing up the rear, barking out the order: drink this or be denied a great experience. This has become such a venerable old beer, elegant and restrained, decorous and scented like a bonfire of cherry wood. If you have one in your cellar open it now or maybe leave it another year or two and see what happens.
Old Foghorn, brewed c2006/07 (?)
Opened, as you’d expect, with a hiss and a swish as the beer returns into the world of the living. Also light chestnut brown in colour. In the glass an earthy woody nose, reminiscent of damp old twigs or damp woodland in autumn; the nose then develops a sweet bubblegum like character. It’s snappier on the palate than the older beer and has a creamy, bitter finish that lingers with a roistering dryness. On the palate there’s an iron-like herbal character that isn’t there on the older one while the bitterness is pretty big; there are also bright cherry-like notes. It’s not so good with the cheese, it hasn’t developed the vinous sweetness to deal with the salt and cream. A great beer on its own and maybe one for mid-evening.
Both are fantastic examples of the skill of the brewer’s art and also the effect aging has on a beer. Obviously you wouldn’t bother aging a bottle of Goose Island IPA or Bateman’s XXX, but I always love to see how some beers last (my oldest is a 1993 Hardy’s, I hardly dare to open it but I will have to one day).

There’s a photo in Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion, in the barley wine chapter, of a pint of Old Foghorn in a bar in San Francisco. It’s in a handled glass, which I always turn down if offered in a pub (straight or handle sir seems a phrase from another age, but I guess people like them in a post-modernist, ironic sense, a bit like smoking a pipe or wearing Hunter wellies at Glastonbury), but for some reason the photo has always called to me. If seen on a winter’s night I lust for an Old Foghorn. 


  1. A hugely under-rated beer, and has the advantage of being relatively easily available.

  2. This is a fantastic beer. Drunk from the brewery is dwarfs everything else in their range (and their range is very good). I've always wondered how the hops in it will age... sounds great.

  3. I'm with you on Foghorn, it's a masterpiece.

    One of the great beer experiences of my life was unfiltered Foghorn straight from the tank back in 2005.

  4. I love Old Foghorn, great with blue cheese and great on a winters night. My beer and cheese evening ;-), ;-), may include it.

  5. I've never tried (or heard of) Old Foghorn and doubt if I ever will, living in some sequestered back water,but I'll do my best to come across it. I've always found American "craft" beers too "in your face", being a Family Brewer nut brown draught sort of chap, but i'm more than willing to give this a go. Does anyone sell it in the UK?

  6. Zak — do you sell it?
    Mark — the hop character fades away the older it gets, you find that a lot with beers as they age and the malt and the yeast (if it’s B/C) start to boss things about
    Jeff — unfiltered from the tank, right that’s on my list of things to experience
    Rob — a ripe and sweaty blue cheese with Old Foghorn, now that’s my idea of heaven
    David — Beers of Europe ( seem to have it